Cab crashes in wine glut

You can have too much of a good thing. Just ask the wine industry.

Wine worldwide enjoyed decades of growth. Decades of producing better wine. Decades of vineyard expansion. And there is the rub.

There is more wine now than markets can bear. Napa cabernet sauvignon is the poster child. Cab now is the most popular grape variety. Not only is it the most popular, it can sell at a premium, especially if it comes from Napa.

Every boom fertilizes seeds of its bust. For a delirious time you could not go wrong planting cab in Napa. When you think nothing can go wrong, you take bigger risks, make bigger bets. In 2017, Napa cab grapes sold for almost $7,500 a ton on average. By comparison, a ton of Sonoma cab grapes sold for $3,000, Washington State—$1,600, Lodi—$700.

Finished-bottle prices can be roughly determined by the one-percent rule of thumb. When a ton of Napa cab grapes sells for $7,500, the finished bottle will sell for around $75.

Napa grape growers, seeing a sure thing, put more land into cab. A Napa acre produces an average of five tons, for a yield around $40,000 an acre. Grow more. Who doesn’t want to make more money? The result was a rise in surplus wine and a fall in prices. The Allied Grape Growers president called for the logical: pull marginal vines. Focus on quality, not quantity.

People are people. The reasoning went: if everyone else is pulling their marginal vines, then I’m better off keeping some of mine. So there has been some pulling, but needs to be more. The same is true in vineyards worldwide.

For consumers the wine glut means stabilization of prices, in some cases a retreat. Enjoy it while you can. Life and agriculture is cyclical. Over time the wine situation will correct as marginal growers go out of business, as enlightened growers cull their vineyards. Until then, enjoy.

Tasting notes:

• Pope Valley Winery Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2016: Rich, full, delicious. Excellent Napa fruit. $60-70 Link to my review

• Hamel Family Wines Isthmus 2016: Deftly balanced; an “oh, wow!” winner. $85 Link to my review

• Far Niente Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville 2010: Impressive Napa fruit from significant, historic maker. $125-160 Link to my review

Last round: Some say it takes a village to raise a child. In my experience, bottles of wine are just as important. On some days, more important.